Starting with the basics (product, technique, tool), the action of cooking can take place in thousands of ways, depending on very varied criteria, from which we make a selection in order to provide evidence in cases where cooks are guided by a specific objective. These will be dealt with in the following pages.
Throughout the history of cooking, very diverse types of cuisine have evolved as certain characteristics have been added to the culinary realm. While the type of cuisine answers the question of how to cook, it is essential to know which criteria we can use to better arrange them and classify them. This will enable us to analyse them according to the basic characteristic or characteristics that may have brought them about.
We devote this section to providing an example of a classification achieved after applying a specific criterion. This allows us to focus exclusively on the characteristic it produces in the cuisine in question, which will be structured into categories from which we can generate knowledge.
Some types of cuisine have their own names and are well known. A series of specific characteristics has been attached to them; these have permeated the collective imagination and are widely used. In this section we pose direct questions to the cuisine itself in order to show that, even if we believe we know what ‘traditional cuisine’ is, we need to contextualize it according to certain criteria in order to gain a better understanding of what defines each type of cuisine.
As occurs in any interview, the key to obtaining the best information is to ask the interviewee the most relevant questions. In this case, given that cuisine, the interviewee, has to answer them, we put forward what we consider to be the main criteria (the questions), which will allow us to recognize as clearly as possible the different types of cuisine.
We have just dealt with the question of elaborations as units with their own characteristics. We attempt now to contextualize them with the same basic criteria in order to analyse the types of cuisine.
It is interesting to observe how many aspects that characterized an elaboration at the time it was created can vary when the context in which it is elaborated and consumed changes. Elaborations can be created in association with a specific type of cuisine, but they can also be adapted to others. We present three very significant examples of elaborations in which this mobility (or lack thereof) is perfectly reflected.
Elaborations are the result of a system in which processes take place and resources are used, a combination from which they often acquire and inherit characteristics. However, in their own right – as results – elaborations also have their own traits, which in many cases have allowed us to typify them.
The structure in which elaborations are arranged (in an à la carte menu, in a tasting menu, in a buffet) leaves the chef scope to decide what to cook and the diner or customer scope to decide what to taste. In addition, the structure of the offering has a major impact on the characteristics that will be associated with the system, the process, the resources and the resulting elaborations, since they will have to comply with it.
This form of cooking is based on the customer’s specific request, i.e. the cook knows beforehand how many elaborations or sets of elaborations they need to prepare, and when the customer will require them.
A fine-dining or gastronomic restaurant can be defined by a very distinct type of cuisine, if there is a characteristic or set of characteristics that represents the concept of the establishment in question. But the cuisine of one restaurant can allow subtle variations and different sorts of characteristics, as can be seen when we analyse specific cases by applying different criteria.
A style of cuisine emerges as a result, occurring when chefs have a personal and distinct way of creating and understanding cuisine, and they are able to reflect this in their results. A movement arises from the sum of similar personal styles that are based on the same philosophy and follow the same trajectory. On the other hand, culinary trends, fashions and novelties are factors that are manifested in forms of consumption; they are present for a time and are reflected in processes and culinary results.
Not all chefs cook all kinds of elaborations or use any technique they like. The subject of specialization is essential when we speak about cooking, as it has created highly differentiated and specific career paths for many chefs, who are classified on the basis of the elaborations in which they specialize.
Although we can generalize by saying that the results of cooking are elaborations, we devote this section to specifying the differences between them, depending on whether they are intermediate, plated or tasted. This allows us to speak about composition, which is very closely linked to the above.
The differentiation between the uses of food and drink as elaborations has favoured the existence of professionals who elaborate only food or only beverages. This is one of the criteria that has produced the majority of highly specialized chefs, and it has acquired vital importance in the current fine-dining scene.
The predominant taste preferences, sweet or savoury, have led to distinction between two worlds of differentiated elaborations. This division not only distinguishes different moments during the same tasting experience, but it has also led to the emergence of highly specialized chefs in both the sweet and the savoury worlds.
Very closely linked to – but not unique to – the cuisine of the sweet world are experts in culinary decoration, which may be an edible part of an elaboration or merely embellishment.
The concept known as ‘product-based cuisine’ refers to two very specific points on which its philosophy is based: the level of elaboration of the product (never excessively elaborated), and the prominence of one product over the others in the elaboration that is tasted (the presence of one main determinant, which may be accompanied by others).
‘Natural cuisine’ is another concept with specific implications in the collective imagination. By definition, any cuisine that used natural (not artificial) products would be ‘natural’ – an extraordinarily complex issue that we will deal with in this section, allowing us to open up a debate on what is ‘natural’.
The work performed by serving professionals is essential in cuisine. We discuss the types of service and their role in the restaurant, and we analyse them from a historical perspective, since they have been evolving and changing their context alongside cuisine until they have today become an essential aspect of the fine-dining sector.